Angry motorists complained yesterday that the District did a poor job of notifying the public of changes in its snow emergency routes, on which 535 cars were ticketed and towed so that the city could clear the streets during Thursday's storm.
The storm, which dropped about six inches in 12 hours, was the first significant snowfall in the area in several years. For the past two years, there was so little snow that emergencies were not declared in the District.
After having some problems clearing snow in previous winters -- including a disastrous effort during the 1996 blizzard that effectively shut down the city for several days -- D.C. officials this year wanted to react quickly to the snow. More than 200 plows and salt trucks hit the streets early Thursday, and illegally parked cars were quickly ticketed and towed to legal parking spaces on side streets.
But residents across the city seemed to have more complaints about the car removal effort than the snow removal.
The most vocal criticism came from people in Upper Northwest who said the city had declared new emergency routes without informing citizens and posted an inaccurate map of the routes on the Transportation Department's Web site.
Nancy Wischnowski, who lives on Nebraska Avenue NW, said she was outraged after a neighbor pointed to a sign indicating that her car was illegally parked on an emergency route.
"It has never been there," Wischnowski said of the emergency route sign. "I don't know who sneakily put it up there without notice to residents."
She moved her car before getting a ticket but later checked the city's Web site and found an incomplete map that did not list her street as an emergency route. Maps mailed recently to residents' homes also were incomplete.
"Who's running what over there?" she said. "Who put the signs up without the proper map?"
Dan Tangherlini, director of transportation, acknowledged yesterday that some of the emergency route signs and maps either were missing or gave conflicting information. Staff members removed the erroneous maps from the Web site and are fixing them, he said.
Tangherlini's office has received several calls from angry residents who received tickets, he said, and his staff will consider appeals from residents who believe they were fined and towed unfairly.
"I've heard the complaints, and we're already looking into how to make it right if we did something unfair," Tangherlini said.
Officials said they did not know how many of the 535 cars were parked on streets that were left off the Web site map. The fine for illegally parking on an emergency route is $250.
Bob Myers, who lives on Western Avenue NW, said that his street has no emergency route signs but that maps sent from the Transportation Department to homes in his neighborhood designated his street as an emergency route.
"It's a question of consistency," Myers said.
D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) said he heard several complaints about the new emergency routes and erroneous Web site.
"That caused a lot of confusion," said Fenty, who contacted transportation officials to discuss the matter. "There were parked cars, and neighbors were knocking on doors to get people to move cars. People said, 'I've lived here 30 years and never had to move.' "
Tangherlini said that last year, his office undertook a complete inventory of all the department's 200,000 street signs, including 6,000 for snow emergency routes. Years of neglect had resulted in numerous inconsistencies, Tangherlini said, and residents had grown used to ignoring the signs. His staff has made many upgrades, but some fell through the cracks, he said.
Now, he said, residents should obey all street signs.
"We're back, and we've put together a good program. We mean what we say," Tangherlini said. "People here need to think like Chicago and New York, where if they say it's a tow zone, they mean it's a tow zone."
Herbert R. Tillery, the city's deputy mayor for operations, said the city kept the snow emergency in effect well after the snow ended in order to thoroughly clean the major streets.
Motorists who are unable to find their towed cars should call 202-541-6078, officials said.